economy

Empty Talking Points, Job Creators Edition

Republicans in Congress, who are currently in the process of stalling a tax cut for the middle class because it would be paid for by a miniscule surtax on the wealthiest, are adamant that the president’s plan for a payroll tax break will hurt small businesses and the wealthy people they like to call “job creators.”

Today, an NPR reporter went looking for some of those job creators who would stop hiring once they’re hit by a 3.25 surcharge on their income taxes. The reporter did her due diligence and asked for names from Republican congressional leaders and business lobbyists. None of them were able to present her with a small business owner who would talk about being hurt by the millionaire’s surtax. Then she tried something new:


So next we put a query on Facebook. And several business owners who said they would be affected by the "millionaires surtax" responded.


"It's not in the top 20 things that we think about when we're making a business hire," said Ian Yankwitt, who owns Tortoise Investment Management.
Tortoise is a boutique investment firm in White Plains, N.Y. Yankwitt has 10 employees and in recent years has done a lot of hiring.


As a result, Yankwitt says he's had many conversations about hiring, "both with respect to specific people, with respect to whether we should hire one junior person or two, whether we should hire a senior person."


He says his ultimate marginal tax rate "didn't even make it on the agenda."
Yankwitt says deciding to bring on another employee is all about return on investment. Will adding another person to the payroll make his company more successful?


For Jason Burger, the motivation is similar.


"If my taxes go up, I have slightly less disposable income, yes," said Burger, co-owner of CSS International Holdings, a global infrastructure contractor. "But that has nothing to do with what my business does. What my business does is based on the contracts that it wins and the demand for its services."


Burger says his Michigan-based company is hiring like crazy, and he'd be perfectly willing to pay the surtax.


"It's only fair that I put back into the system that is the entire reason for my success," said Burger.


For the record, both Burger and Yankwitt have made campaign contributions to Democrats in the past, but they say their views on the surtax are about the economics of their businesses and not their politics.


And they're not alone.


"I, like any other American, especially a business owner, I want to make as much money as I can and I want to keep as much money in my pocket as I can, but I also believe in the greater good," says Deborah Schwarz, who owns LAC Group, an information management firm with offices nationwide and in London.
Surtax or no, Schwarz says she hopes to keep hiring.


"We're going to keep on writing proposals, going after contracts, hopefully winning them, and when we do we're going to continue to hire people," says Schwarz.


All of this contradicts the arguments about job creators being made by Republicans in Congress.

Republicans are stopping a tax break for the middle class because of a myth about “job creators” they they aren’t able to back up with any actual examples, while actual job creators are keeping on investing in their own futures and that of their employees.
 

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Limbaugh: Elizabeth Warren, for Advocating Fair Taxation, is a 'Parasite'

De facto head of the GOP and all-around blowhard Rush Limbaugh had the gall to call Elizabeth Warren a “parasite” and “an arrogant condescending, conceited snob who has profound resentment” last week in his latest attempt at throwing cold water on anything approaching rationality in political dialogue.

So one has to ask what Warren said that was so upsetting to the right-wing provocateur.

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody! You built a factory out there? Good for you! But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You built a factory, and it turned into something terrific or a great idea: God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

But hey, I get it. Anything that says there is a social compact automatically makes right wingers like Limbaugh hyperventilate. They’d rather sacrifice a good economy, schools that educate our young, and yes, a social contract that helps our seniors stay out of poverty than tell the most privileged of our society that they have to pay a larger share of their income in taxes than their secretaries. If that were my goal, I’d be pretty angry at Elizabeth Warren too.

Elizabeth Warren 1. Rush Limbaugh, right wingers, space cadets, nitwits and bullies 0.

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Mitt Romney Still Thinks Corporations are People. They Still Aren’t.

Campaigning in Florida today, Mitt Romney doubled down on his recent claim that “corporations are people”:


Speaking to a town hall-style gathering at a Miami airport hotel, the former Massachusetts governor repeated the line he first said last month at the Iowa State Fair.


“I’ll communicate to the private sector, by the way, that we like you,” Romney said in response to a question about how to encourage banks to lend more money. “We like enterprise. I was in Iowa the other day, and people suggested that we just raise taxes on corporations.”


He went on: “I told them, corporations are people. … Raising taxes on corporations is raising taxes on people.”


While it’s true that corporations are owned by people, Romney intentionally ignores the basic purpose of corporations: to be a legal entities separate from human beings that own them, with different rights and responsibilities under the law. He also ignores the fact that many large corporations pay much less in taxes than actual human beings – GE, for instance, paid no federal income taxes in 2010.

Even if corporations were people, they’d be doing fairly well in today’s economy. Corporate profits have soared in the past year, even as more and more human beings are out of jobs and facing poverty.

When Romney made his first “corporations are people” remark, we responded with a petition and a TV ad in New Hampshire. Sounds like it’s time to dust that ad off:

 

 

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Hit With Ethics Complaint, Issa Turns to the Usual Scapegoat

The advocacy group American Family Voices is planning to file an ethics complaint against House Oversight & Government Reform Committee chairman Darrel Issa for improperly using his position to add to his multimillion dollar personal fortune, according to a report by The Hill.

Issa’s tenure as chair of the committee has been rife with examples of politically-charged investigations (or lack of investigations), so it’s not surprising that Issa’s office would immediately try to pass off these legitimate ethics inquiries as a White House set-up. Just as he called the New York Time’s lengthy inquiry into the overlap between his private financial interests and his public actions “a hit piece,” Issa’s spokesperson insists that this complaint is also without merit because “the White House has used an assortment of outside progressive groups in an effort to attack Oversight and Chairman Issa directly. This is just their latest salvo in an ongoing effort to obstruct oversight.”

While the White House and Rep. Issa may be politically at odds, the White House certainly didn’t direct the SEC to stop investigating Goldman Sachs (Issa did; he simultaneously bought $600,000 worth of Goldman Sachs bonds). The President didn’t push for a merger between Sirius and XM satellite radio companies (Issa did; he has a financial interest in Sirius through his holding company DEI).

Until Issa can explain how the White House is forcing him to favor corporations in which he has a financial interest, his complaints won’t carry a lot of water. More likely, this ethics inquiry will reveal that the Congressman might not always prioritize fair and effective oversight.

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The 2012 GOP Field: Not Even Ronald Reagan Could Get This Nomination

Tonight, eight GOP presidential candidates will alight on sacred ground to some: the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. As the candidates pay the required perpetual homage to the 40th president, the rest of us might take some time to reflect on just how far off the Reagan Ranch the Republican Party has gone.

Since the advent of the Tea Party, the Republican establishment has adopted a philosophy that you could call "Xtreme Reagan" -- tax cuts for the wealthy without compromise, deregulation without common sense, social conservatism without an ounce of respect -- that makes even a liberal like me almost miss the political pragmatism of the Gipper. It's terrifying that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a hard-line economic and social conservative, whose regressive economic policies as governor were to the right of Reagan, is now widely considered to be too far to the left to even be a contender.

Don't get me wrong -- I never was a fan of Ronald Reagan and his policies. But I miss the days when believing in science and being able to do basic budget math didn't make you a radical Socialist.

Reagan, a savvy politician, rode to power on the money of corporate America and the passion of an increasingly politicized Religious Right -- and, for the most part, gave both groups enough of what they wanted once he was in office to keep them both happy. But he also bucked those interests at some important points. Contrary to current Reagan hagiography, he raised taxes 11 times during his eight years in office -- including the largest corporate tax hike in American history -- when it became clear that pure trickle-down economics would be disastrous for the economy. And in 1981, over the objections of anti-choice groups, he nominated the highly qualified and politically moderate Sandra Day O'Connor to serve on the Supreme Court.

Today's Tea Party candidates, as they love to remind us, are beholden to the same interests. But they have taken the Reagan strategy a step further, turning the values of the Reagan coalition into a new, unyieldingly rigid conservative orthodoxy.

In the Tea Party orthodoxy, environmentalism isn't just bad for business, it's unbiblical. Tax cuts aren't just what the rich want, they're what Jesus wants . The Democratic president isn't just a liberal, he's a foreigner trying to destroy America from within. Conspiracy theories become hard-and-fast facts before you can change the channel away from Fox News. There's no compromise when you live in an air-tight world of unquestioned beliefs that become created facts.

Let's take a look at how the eight GOP candidates debating tonight have taken Xtreme Reaganism and made it their own:

  • Rick Santorum: Compared health care reform to drug dealing, said it will make Christians "less than what God created you to be," said it would "destroy the country"; compared gay relationships to "man-on-dog sex"; slammed the Supreme Court decision ensuring the right to access contraception.
  • Herman Cain: The most unabashedly anti-Muslim candidate in the field (and that's saying something!), proposed a religious test for office for Muslims who wanted to work for his administration.
  • Newt Gingrich: Where to begin? Maybe with the threat of a "secular atheist country... dominated by radical Islamists." Or with the threat of "gay and secular fascism." Or with his entire record as Speaker of the House of Representatives. You choose.
  • Ron Paul: Supposedly the most "libertarian" figure in the GOP, but does not support personal liberties for women or gay people. Still thinks the Voting Rights Act was a bad idea and we were better off before FEMA.
  • Jon Huntsman: The supposedly "moderate" candidate in the GOP field, enacted a highly regressive flat tax as governor of Utah, tried to eliminate corporate taxes, and banned second-trimester abortions.
  • Michele Bachmann: Calls homosexuality "personal enslavement," wants to reduce government to "its original size," says those who believe the science of evolution are part of a "cult following."
  • Mitt Romney: Believes whatever the Republican base wants him to believe, which these days is pretty far off the rails.
  • Rick Perry: Kicked off his presidential campaign by holding an event with the most extreme leaders of the Religious Right he could find, including a pastor who thinks that God sent Hitler to hunt the Jews and another who thinks that the Statue of Liberty is a "demonic idol."

This is the field that the Party of Reagan has produced to appeal to a right-moving and increasingly isolated base -- where the architect of health care reform has to run against himself, where the most libertarian still isn't willing to cross the Religious Right, and where the highest-polling has floated the idea of his state seceding from the union.

Listen tonight as you hear the homage to Ronald Reagan and consider how radical this party has actually become.

Cross posted on Huffington Post

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Anonymous Attacks Against LA Progressives

This summer, an organization called Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) finds itself the target of dozens of baseless public records requests instigated by an anonymous right wing entity apparently seeking to intimidate and harass the organization.

LAANE has long fought for policies to raise wages, protect the environment, and enhance community input on new box stores. In other words, they have gotten in the way when giant corporations have put profit maximization over the rights of workers, consumers, and communities. Perhaps that is why they now find themselves the subject of an extensive fishing expedition for public records that can be taken out of context and demagogued ad nauseam.

An opposition research company that has worked with conservative candidates and causes in California has sent dozens of letters to public officials across the state demanding all communications between LAANE and more than 70 public officials going back a number of years.

So who hired the opposition research firm? Who is it that is apparently hoping to use public disclosure laws to do a hatchet job on LAANE?

Good question, since they refuse to identify themselves.

At least when conservatives in Wisconsin and Michigan used baseless public records requests to intimidate and harass academics at public universities, we knew which far right pro-corporate entities were doing it (ALEC and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy).

In light of the numerous deceptive actions designed to destroy Planned Parenthood, ACORN, NPR, and Shirley Sherrod, it is more important than ever to fight right wing efforts to smear people and organizations who they see as standing in the way of their agenda.

People For the American Way stands with LAANE in demanding an end to the anonymous attack, and you can, too, by signing this petition calling on those who are behind the attack on LAANE to reveal their identities. Democracy is strengthened by the free and robust exchange of ideas and arguments, not by anonymous efforts to intimidate and discredit those who disagree with you.

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No New Taxes! (Except for the Poor and Middle Class)

You might remember, if you haven’t forced it from your memory, that a few weeks ago Congress participated in some nerve-wracking brinksmanship over a routine but necessary raising of the debt ceiling, risking a disastrous default and ultimately causing the first downgrade of U.S. credit in history.

The reason for that debacle was that that Republicans in Congress were looking for leverage to pursue drastic cuts in government services while refusing any and all revenue increases as per the no-exceptions “no new taxes” pledge the majority of them have signed at the bequest of Americans for Tax Reform's Grover Norquist.

Well, it turns out the GOP’s “no new taxes” pledge might actually have an exception – when it comes to raising taxes on the working poor. Last December, Congress approved President Obama’s request for a temporary reduction of the payroll tax paid by working people with the lowest incomes. The cuts are now set to expire, and unlike George W. Bush’s incredibly costly tax cuts on the wealthy, the GOP is happy to see this tax relief for the poor and middle class go.

Slate’s David Weigel writes that the push to make low-income people pay more taxes while shielding the wealthy and corporations from new tax burdens is part of a changing tax orthodoxy in the GOP, with leaders like Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry advocating for pressing new income taxes on people – largely the elderly and the working poor – who are currently exempted from them:


This isn't a new theory. In 2002 and 2003, long before it got Huntsman in the room, the Wall Street Journal editorialized that poor people who didn't pay income taxes were "lucky duckies." The poor slob with a low income and child tax credit would get a small or nonexistent tax bill, not one that would "get his or her blood boiling with tax rage." The problem here wasn't that the poor slob wasn't paying any taxes; the problem was that his meager tax bill failed to foment enough anger to reduce taxes on other people. Tax cuts for the rich—tax cuts for anyone, really, but the Journal has always been concerned about tax cuts for the rich—require a broad base of outrage.


Republican politicians didn't make this argument—until the Obama era. What changed? For decades, the "lucky ducky" number, the percentage of Americans that pay no taxes, never rose above 30 percent. The Bush tax cuts pushed it over 30 percent, but not too far over. Then, in 2008 and 2009, the economy collapsed. The government responded with, among other things, new tax deductions.


The result: The percentage of people paying no income taxes spiked up to 47 percent and stayed there. When the Tea Party started rallying in 2009, it wasn't protesting higher taxes, because federal income taxes were lower, with more loopholes. It was protesting the perception that productive Americans were shelling out for an ever-expanding class of moochers. And Republicans have taken the Tea Party's lead.


Of course, the increase in taxes on the working poor and the middle class that is currently on the table might not exactly follow the letter of the Americans for Tax Reform anti-tax pledge that the majority of GOP members of Congress have signed. But does it not count when it’s the incomes of the poor and the middle class that are at stake? The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has put in an asked Norquist’s group if the payroll tax increase violates the pledge, but hasn’t heard back from them.
 

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Darrell Issa's Two Hats

Rep. Darrell Issa’s ties to big business run deep, and as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, Issa has functioned quite efficiently as an arm of a Wall Street lobbying shop. He has demanded that government regulators back off from applying new rules to Goldman Sachs, and he has fought tooth-and-nail to deny the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and its yet-unconfirmed director Rich Cordray, any significant means to protect the public from fraud and abuse by the financial industry.

It’s (unfortunately) expected that members of Congress will take pains to protect their favored constituencies, but Issa has taken the overlap of money and politics to a new extreme. Issa’s deep ties to Wall Street are not a figment of his distant past – to this day he is so deeply beholden to Wall Street’s interest that it is difficult at times to discern which hat he is wearing – his investment tycoon hat or his chairman-of-one-of-the-most-powerful-committees-in-Congress-responsible-for-holding-corporations-and-the-government-accountable hat.

For example:

  • While Issa fought to block the SEC investigation of Goldman Sachs, he quietly bought $600,000 worth of Goldman Sachs bonds.
  • While Issa was accusing the Treasury of a “cover-up” in their role in Bank of America’s purchase of Merrill Lynch, he didn’t mention that he had completed transactions with Merrill Lynch totaling $1 billion over the last decade.
  • Many of Issa’s staffers epitomize the K-Street ‘revolving door.’

But the most troubling symptom of Issa's rapid swapping of hats is that the American people suffer when the Oversight committee fails to do its job  outcomes of investigations are pre-determined. When the committee -- at Issa’s direction -- investigated the FCIC for finding the “wrong” causes of the financial crisis, Issa simply cancelled the hearing when the investigation turned up examples of wrongdoing by Republicans. In other words, anything that, in the words of Issa's spokesman, “doesn’t fit the narrative,” was thrown out and what could have been an important investigation was postponed indefinitely.

As more and more examples of Issa’s eagerness to put corporations before people and Wall Street before Main Street rise to the surface, the American people will surely demand that those charged with making sure everyone plays by rules do so themselves.

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Wisconsin Recall Round-Up: Post-Election Edition

Last night, voters sent a message to Scott Walker and his corporate, right-wing allies. They told him that Wisconsinites won’t sit back and let him attack working families to score political points. They told him they’re not going to swallow his misleading claims about wanting to balance the budget when he gives tax breaks to big corporations and the wealthiest individuals- while cutting funds for those that need them most. And most of all, they told him that his actions will have consequences. Four incumbent Republicans may have survived this election, but there’s no way they or Scott Walker slept soundly last night, knowing that when they betray the needs of their constituents, the people notice--even in the Republican-leaning districts we won last night.

 

To round up the results, four districts saw the Republican incumbent fend off their challengers: Luther Olsen in SD-14 (by only 2000 votes), Robert Cowles in SD-02, Sheila Harsdorf in SD-10 and Alberta Darling in SD-08. Two districts will see new Democratic State Senators: Jessica King in SD-18 and Jennifer Shilling in SD-32. That narrows the Republican majority to 17-16 in the State Senate, in the biggest win in Wisconsin recall history. We Are Wisconsin built an amazing field operation which will be crucial in future elections: with the capability to knock on over 90,000 doors on Election Day alone, the groundwork laid by their campaign is impressive enough even beside our two gains.

 

Today, I didn’t wake up feeling disappointed or hopeless because we didn’t take back the State Senate. I woke up thinking of the threat to collective bargaining rights in Ohio and extreme anti-choice legislation in Kansas; I woke up thinking of the corporate ALEC agenda being pushed across the country; and I woke up thinking of struggling Americans with no health insurance, couples without equal rights and millions of unemployed workers who need jobs.

 

Last night, we won two new seats for the Democrats in the Wisconsin State Senate and showed that the people have a voice. Next Tuesday, we’re working in SD 12 and 22 to defend Jim Holperin and Bob Wirch. I  don’t know about you, but we’re not done fighting yet.

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Wisconsin News Round-Up, 8/5

News from Wisconsin:

  • Election Day is only four days away, but there’s still a long road ahead. RNC Chair Reince Priebus, in a spectacular failure of expectations management, said Friday that the RNC is “all in” on the Wisconsin recalls, and that they’re “not nervous” about winning the elections. I’m not sure I believe him, especially as his position has now shifted to “nothing to see here, move along please”, telling reporters these are local races and there's no national significance to the recalls. That would be why the Republican National Committee that Priebus chairs is pouring money into the race, right? He might be on to something, though: regardless of the outcome of the elections, the people have already won by shining a light on the plight of working people and the dangerous policies of Walker’s right-wing agenda. Still, with We Are Wisconsin announcing they have contacted one million voters, and absentee voting at “near record pace” in some areas, I think Priebus has reason to be nervous. Even Dan Kapanke seems to agree, with the Pierce County Herald reporting that Kapanke said Republicans better hope public employees sleep through Election Day. Except it’s not just public employees he has to worry about: it’s seniors, students and ordinary working families across Wisconsin who have been damaged by Walker’s policies, and unfortunately for Kapanke, I think they already woke up.
  • Still, that doesn’t mean the radical Right isn’t fighting with all they’ve got (which is a lot) to win this thing, and they’re not playing by the rules, either. Americans For Prosperity, a Koch brothers front group which has already funded Walker’s campaign against Wisconsinites, is sending out absentee ballots with false information on them, telling voters to return their ballots after election day, to a non-government address used by other right-wing groups in the past. Stay classy!
  • Last week, we learned that Kim Simac thinks our public schools have similarities to schools under the Nazi regime. This week she’s clarifying those comments, by telling us our public schools have similarities to Nazi schools. Asked about her comments, she told WPR that she’s “not worried that we're going that way, absolutely not”, but then went on talk about “similarities that seem to happen”, concluding that this isn’t “a conversation that I should hide from.” Please, Kim, let’s keep talking about our Nazi schools. It’s not like there’s an economy that needs fixing or anything.
  • Alberta Darling is still managing to surprise us with her detachment from reality: she thinks people who earn over $250,000 “aren’t wealthy people” and thus deserve a tax break, while working families continue to struggle with the consequences of Walker’s massive cuts. By the way, the median household income in Wisconsin is less than one-fifth of that at $49,994 (which means half the households in Wisconsin earn less than that). About 2% of Americans, and 3% of small businesses for that matter, make more than $250,000 a year.
  • In other news, the “chokehold” incident between Justice David Prosser and Justice Ann Bradley is facing further investigation, with the Dane County District Attorney asking that a special prosecutor be appointed.
  • On Monday, the State Senate approved the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits, with Assembly Republicans supporting the bill because it saves the state money- despite the reality that unemployment benefits are one of the best forms of stimulus, generating a return to the economy of $1.64 for every $1 spent. But Republicans don’t really care about the economic crisis’ impact on ordinary people, as long as their friends in the top 2% get their tax break. Welcome to Scott Walker’s Wisconsin.
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Wisconsin News Round-Up, 8/2

More news from Wisconsin:

  • Election Day is only a week away, but there’s still a long road ahead. RNC Chair Reince Priebus, in a spectacular failure of expectations management, said Friday that the RNC is “all in” on the Wisconsin recalls, and that they’re “not nervous” about winning the elections. I’m not sure I believe him. With We Are Wisconsin announcing they have contacted one million voters, and absentee voting at “near record pace” in some areas, I think Priebus has plenty of reason to be nervous. Even Dan Kapanke seems to agree, with the Pierce County Herald reporting that Kapanke said Republicans better hope public employees sleep through Election Day. Except it’s not just public employees he has to worry about: it’s seniors, students and ordinary working families across Wisconsin who have been damaged by Walker’s policies, and unfortunately for Kapanke, I think they already woke up.
  • Still, that doesn’t mean the radical Right isn’t fighting with all they’ve got (which is a lot) to win this thing, and they’re not playing by the rules, either. Americans For Prosperity, a Koch brothers front group which has already funded Walker’s campaign against Wisconsinites, is sending out absentee ballots with false information on them, telling voters to return their ballots after election day, to a fake address used by other right-wing groups in the past. Stay classy!
  • Alberta Darling is still managing to surprise us with her detachment from reality: she thinks people who earn over $250,000 “aren’t wealthy people” and thus deserve a tax break, while working families continue to struggle with the consequences of Walker’s massive cuts. By the way, the median household income in Wisconsin is less than one-fifth of that at $49,994 (which means half the households in Wisconsin earn less than that). About 2% of Americans, and 3% of small businesses for that matter, make more than $250,000 a year.
  • In other news, the “chokehold” incident between Justice David Prosser and Justice Ann Bradley is facing further investigation, with the Dane County District Attorney asking that a special prosecutor be appointed. Yesterday, the State Senate approved the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits, with Assembly Republicans supporting the bill because it saves the state money- despite the reality that unemployment benefits are one of the best forms of stimulus, generating a return to the economy of $1.64 for every $1 spent. But Republicans don’t really care about the economic crisis’ impact on ordinary people, as long as their friends in the top 2% get their tax break. Welcome to Scott Walker’s Wisconsin.  
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Wisconsin News Round-Up, 7/27

  • Less than two weeks out from election day, a new Daily Kos/PPP poll shows a path to victory for the Democrats: Clark is ahead of Olsen by two points, and Nusbaum and Pasch are more than holding their own against Cowles (SD 02) and Darling (SD 08). This is especially good news in SD 08, confirming a trend seen in a previous poll. It seems that the once-confident Darling is slipping: One Wisconsin Now told Greg Sargent that Club for Growth sank $400,000 right after the previous poll came out.
  • Early voting has begun, and (thanks to Walker’s ID law) will end earlier than in previous elections, on the Friday before Election Day. If you live in a recall district, make sure you vote at your local municipal clerk’s office.
  • In news from the Republican candidates, Kim Simac, running against Jim Holperin in SD 12, has some questionable comments in her past. Also, Randy Hopper is in yet more hot water over his mistress’ lobbying gig.  
  • Fred Clark faced Luther Olsen in a debate in Portage last night, with further debates scheduled tonight and tomorrow. There’s a short clip at that link.
  • More for the unfortunately large file of voter disenfranchisement news in Wisconsin: Gov. Walker is planning on closing ten DMVs around the state, making it even more difficult for voters to obtain the photo ID needed to vote, although the DMV says the decision isn’t final yet. Currently, fewer than half the counties in Wisconsin meet the requirement that photo ID services be available for 20 hours a week. This video from We Party shows how difficult it can be to obtain a photo ID even when DMVs are open. At least one Democrat says the Governor is targeting DMVs in Democratic areas for closure; a Department of Transport official counters that “the changes were based on economics, not politics.” Even if this is true, if an office needs to be open to enable citizens to exercise their democratic rights, nothing should interfere with that- not political parties, not economics and certainly not the right-wing agenda of a Governor who puts ideology (and the wishes of his friends at ALEC) before the needs of Wisconsinites. Seriously, is there anything less American than interfering with people’s right to vote?
  • Controversy surrounding the redistricting law continues. After the Senate approved the maps last week, Walker has signed a bill allowing the legislature to circumvent a law requiring them to wait until local governments have submitted their own maps. Criticism of the maps continues to mount, with even Alberta Darling distancing herself from the bill and recognizing that the courts may have to solve this one -- even though she voted for it. It might help if in future she didn’t vote for bills she thought could be unconstitutional, but that’s a small quibble.
  • State Senate Republicans are finally moving on a bill to extend jobless benefits, although they are insisting on one more jab at the unemployed, making sure to include a one-week delay for benefits. Good work, Republicans, that’ll show ‘em. If their ideology makes them disapprove of unemployment benefits in principle, that’s one thing, but no one could reasonably say a one-week delay was going to motivate people to find work (as if that was the reason people are unemployed in this economy). It’s just a gratuitous kick in the teeth from the party that doesn’t care about the struggles of ordinary Americans.
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CFPB finally opens its doors: A welcome sign of true financial reform

Exactly one year after the Dodd-Frank Act was signed into law, the much anticipated Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is open for business. The agency is part of the response to calls for much tougher oversight and will protect consumers by pursuing businesses that practice wrongful and abusive tactics.

The bureau’s chief architect, Elizabeth Warren, is a highly regarded consumer advocate who assembled a talented and dedicated team to build from scratch a consumer advocacy agency in the span of one year. Millions of Americans will benefit from the tremendous work she and her team has done to build this critical agency. The CFPB’s Office of Servicemembers Affairs is an especially important branch within the agency, whose mission is to ensure that our men and women in uniform will not have to deal with certain stresses while overseas, such as the wrongful foreclosures many soldiers and their families have unfortunately experienced.

Unfortunately, however, the agency is off to a rough start. Though President Obama named fierce consumer advocate Richard Cordray to head the agency, on its inaugural day, the CFPB is without an official director. Senate Republicans claim it could be for some time, as they block any nomination for the bureau’s top job and the House continues its work to dismantle—and if possible, even repeal—the Dodd-Frank Act.

This new consumer advocacy group is essential to the economic wellbeing of the American people and the nation as a whole. During these troublesome economic times, thousands of once, hardworking men and women struggle to find jobs, face foreclosures, and struggle to make ends meet. The CFPB cannot necessarily get them out of these unfortunate situations, but it can certainly protect them from the continued fraudulent and abusive practices of greedy corporations that got them into this mess.

Americans need someone who will stand up for them as they continue working to recover from this terrible economic mess. With talks of a possible “double-dip recession,” it is more important than ever that our leaders in Washington make it clear that they are on the side of the American people and willing to do whatever to protect consumers and put this country’s economy back on track.

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The Tea Party Constitution and the Debt Ceiling

Last year, we released a report on the myriad ways that the Tea Party movement – supposedly obsessed with the Constitution – twists the United States’ founding documents beyond recognition.

This month, in the debate over the normally routine process of raising the nation’s debt ceiling to prevent a default and the resulting massive setback to the recovering economy, we get another example.

Republicans in the House have introduced a plan that would, among other demands, require the passage of a constitutional “balanced budget” amendment before they will consider taking a simple step to avert economic disaster. In Slate on Friday, Dahlia Lithwick and Doug Kendall explained why a balanced budget amendment -- championed by Utah senator and Tea Party favorite Mike Lee -- would not just be bad policy…it would be a big departure from the original text and intent of the Constitution:

It's fairly certain that George Washington and the other Founders gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 would be appalled by the Lee amendment. It is not an accident that the first two enumerated powers the Constitution vests in Congress are the power "to lay and collect Taxes … to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States" and "to borrow money on the credit of the United States." The Constitution's broad textual grant of power was a direct response to the Articles of Confederation, which had imposed crippling restrictions on Congress's power to borrow and tax. These restrictions plagued the Revolutionary War effort and made a deep and lasting impression on Washington and other war veterans. Lee and the other proponents of shrinking the federal government to restore freedom misapprehend that the Constitution recognized there would be no freedom without a strong federal government to promote it.

Finally, in a Constitution filled with broad principles of governance, the amendment's arbitrary spending limit of 18 percent of GDP—an awkward and unworkable figure—would stick out like a sore thumb. Contrary to Chief Justice John Marshall's warning in the landmark decision of McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), Lee's arbitrary spending limit "partake[s] of the prolixity of a legal code," and would be out of place in a document that is designed to "to endure for ages to come … to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs."

We face a high duty when amending the Constitution: to match the Framers' maturity and foresight. By every measure that would have mattered to the Founders, Lee's proposed amendment easily flunks this test. Sen. Lee fancies himself a friend to the Constitution and an originalist. So why is he pushing for the ratification of an amendment that would take us back to the days before the Constitution was even ratified? The framers trusted in the wisdom of future legislators. The Balanced Budget Amendment represents a betrayal not only of our future but of our past as well.

Of course, the most pressing issue here is that House Republicans are playing chicken with the world economy in order to uphold massive tax breaks for the rich. But that they’re using such a misguided constitutional amendment as a bargaining chip speaks volumes about the Tea Party’s priorities.
 

PFAW

Warren faces Issa one more time before launch of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Elizabeth Warren appeared before the House Oversight Committee yet one more time on Wednesday – her third trip to the Committee – in advance of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) launch next week. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street and Consumer Protection Act, signed into law in nearly one year ago, called for the creation of the CFPB as a way to ensure consumer protection from fraudulent and abusive practices by banks, mortgage companies, lending agencies, and other services and products.

As the lead architect of the agency’s creation, Warren faced relentless questioning from the panels’ Republican members, who probed her about issues including the bureau employee salaries, the agency’s budget, and her views on parts of the Dodd-Frank Act. Instead of finding ways to support an agency tasked, by Congress, with the mission of protecting American consumers from fraud and abuse, it seemed instead that the Republicans were looking for ways to undermine Professor Warren and the work of the upcoming agency.

There is a place for serious oversight for any government agency, but it is clear the Republicans are not interested in oversight, but rather in bringing down the agency before it even gets off the ground.

The CFPB is essential for protecting the financial security, stability, and wellbeing of both American families and the nation’s economy. Indeed, insufficient financial regulations and lack of consumer protections led to the recent financial meltdown that has so devastated our economy and created such hardship for working families.

Chairman Issa has already shown that he is not serious about looking out for the financial interests of the American people. He refuses to issue subpoenas to many of the banks that are behind the foreclosure crisis, abruptly halted an investigation of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission despite legitimate evidence of wrongful malfeasance by some of its members, and continues to attack the work of Elizabeth Warren and the Congressionally mandated agency she has been so instrumental and committed to building.

Congressman Jim Cooper put it best during the hearing when he expressed his disappointment in the committee. He admonished its members for constantly sticking to partisan talking points instead of truly focusing on the heart of the issues and doing what is right for the American people.

While Chairman Issa said he joined Representative Cooper in sharing this important message, let’s see if his actions speak louder than his words.

PFAW

Maddow Shines Light On Perry's Extreme Prayer Rally Endorsers

Cross-posted on Right Wing Watch

Last night Rachel Maddow looked into the radical views of the preachers and activists that Texas Gov. Rick Perry is partnering with to put on his The Response prayer rally. Utilizing research from People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch, Maddow featured video of Mike Bickle, John Hagee, Bryan Fischer, Cindy Jacobs, John Benefiel and C. Peter Wagner, and discussed Perry’s attempts to win support from the Religious Right as he weighs a run for the presidency.

 

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

PFAW

New Tool Gives Unprecedented Insight into ALEC

Today, the Center for Media & Democracy and The Nation unveiled www.ALECexposed.org, an important resource that provides key insight into the workings of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the shadowy organization that shepherds corporate-crafted bills through state legislatures, as detailed in this PFAW Foundation report. This new wiki-style website allows you view the actual legislation ALEC is pushing, including bills affecting:

These “model bills” are extraordinarily influential – they reach almost every state, and give incredible advantages to big corporations by carving special loopholes into environmental, tax and safety regulations and slashing worker and consumer protections. Below is a clip of PFAW’s Andrew Gillum discussing ALEC’s work with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell:

 

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

PFAW

Senate to Try New Thing Called 'Work'

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has cancelled the scheduled 4th of July recess, in the hopes that the Republican obstructionists in the upper chamber might finally allow some real work to take place on behalf of the American people. The debt talks certainly deserve attention, but this is also a great opportunity to whittle down the critical mass of still-unconfirmed presidential nominees. The number of vacant positions, particularly in the judiciary, is an embarrassing testament to the unprecedented obstruction that is taking place. According to PFAW’s Marge Baker as reported in the Huffington Post, we can’t even begin to tackle this problem unless the Senate actually shows up for work:

Baker sees a simple means of drilling through the obstruction by embarrassing an opposition that has chosen to enjoy fictional days at the office at a time when most Americans are working extra hard to keep their jobs in a tough economy.

“One way to do that is stay in session and work -- force them to work -- and get something done,” Baker said, referring particularly to the Senate where there is an enormous backlog of unfinished business on the appointment front alone.

Of nearly 300 civilian appointments Obama has made this year, fewer than 100 of them have been confirmed by the Senate -- even when there is no opposition.

It’s particularly stark with judicial appointees. Baker noted that there are 15 judge nominees who have been unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee -- nine of them women or minority appointees -- yet none have made it to the floor of the Senate.

To her, that just looks like obstruction. And even worse, in her mind, is the idea that Republicans simply want to flout the law by refusing to confirm anyone to the CFPB -- unless the law is changed.

PFAW

Issa Helps Himself by Helping Goldman Sachs

You may recall that last year the Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC) filed a civil suit against Goldman Sachs, and that Rep. Darrell Issa tried to thwart the government[] investigation by sending a letter to Mary Schapiro, chairwoman of SEC. Issa said he was concerned that the lawsuit was timed “to coincide with the Senate’s consideration of financial regulatory legislation.” You may also recall that Issa’s motivations have been called into question in the past, and he’s often been accused of using his political power for his own monetary gain. Well, it appears that there might be more to that than we knew before. Recently, some of Issa’s personal finance disclosures have come to light. ThinkProgress reported:

According to documents filed recently with the House Clerk, Issa went on a buying spree of high yield Goldman Sachs bonds at the same time he was running defense for the investment bank in Congress. From February to December of 2010, Issa bought 12 Goldman Sachs High Yield Fund Class A bonds, each worth up to $50,000 (view page 10 the disclosure here). Many of the bonds were purchased in the months after he filed his letter to the SEC. The $600,000 in new Goldman Sachs investments added to Issa’s already multimillion dollar stake in the company, valued from $5.1 to $15.5 million.

Issa had claimed that his stance was representative of ordinary Americans, but clearly his actions indicate that he may put his own interests first.

PFAW

Ohio Gov. John Kasich's Secret Video

In this by-invitation-only video, Ohio’s governor, John Kasich, sings praises to “the fighters of freedom, the grassroots leaders of American for Prosperity (AFP)”. While he was at it, he might have well just given a big thanks to Charles and David Koch, the financial sponsors of AFP, as well as large donors to the governor’s campaign.

So why exactly is Kasich thankful for Americans for Prosperity?

Well, Kasich applauds their support in helping with the privatization of the state’s economy. The new program known as JobsOhio is supposed “to be able to move at the speed of business”. But while it’s promoting corporate profits, JobsOhio will require privatizing five prisons, doing away with the state’s estate tax, and cutting funding for schools and local governments. Townships are expected to lose 50% of their funding from the state, while schools lose about 11.5%. That equates to roughly 10,000 teachers.

Another accomplishment Kasich celebrates could not have happened without AFP’s support is "government union reform". Translation: union-busting that prevents public workers (including teachers, firefighters, and police officers) from collective bargaining for benefits and from going on strike.

So it is no wonder that Governor Kasich did not want to make this video public. Thanking a group for helping him to cut thousands of jobs, limit workers’ rights, privatize state services, and put a significant tax burden on local governments certainly won’t be a great boost to his 33% approval rating.

PFAW